A pilot missing and presumed dead along with two passengers after their float plane crashed north of Port Hardy is being remembered by his employer as exceptionally skilled and smart.
Patrick Lehman was transporting two workers from a logging camp in the Mount Waddington area on B.C.’s Central Coast back to Port Hardy when the Cessna A185E suddenly went down into the waters of Strachan Bay, about 49 kilometres northwest of Port Hardy.
Witnesses reported that they saw the float plane crash into the bay around 12:52 p.m., shortly after take-off, according to MARPAC Public Affairs Victoria.
Within minutes, first responders were on scene including a CH-149 Cormorant, Canadian Coast Guard helicopter, Transport Canada 951 and a lifeboat from the Coast Guard’s Port Hardy station.
The Coast Guard helicopter spotted an oil slick and debris on the water, and Transport Canada later used an infrared sensor to scan the water.
Search and Rescue technicians were then lowered to the lifeboat to assess the situation up close but it was determined that it was too late for any extraction effort, which was “beyond the capability of the team on scene” said MARPAC Public Affairs Officer Lt. Chelsea Dubeau.
Investigators have not yet confirmed any fatalities in the crash, but SAR was stood down and the pilot and passengers have not been found.
“Coast Guard helicopter and boats were sent to the area and a search was made, however no survivors have been located and the plane has been presumed to have sunk,” said BC RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Alex Bérubé in a statement. “The RCMP and the Transportation Safety Board are working together to determine what may have caused the plane to go down.”
A dive team has been dispatched to try to locate the plane and its occupants.
The floatplane was hired from a coastal air charter business called Air Cab, based in Coal Harbour.
When reached, president Joel Eilerstein called the situation a “tragic accident” and confirmed that the pilot was Lehman, though he could not provide the identity of the two passengers. All were said to live in or near Port Hardy.
“I spent a lot of time with Patrick. I talked to him 10 minutes before he crashed,” said Eilerstein, adding he was a talented pilot and a smart individual.
Eilerstein said the day Lehman was flying, winds in the area were considered to be strong, raising concerns he said he’s voiced previously to Transport Canada about out-of-service weather stations in the area.
The stations, located at Herbert Island and Sartine Island, have not been working for a month and two-and-a-half-years, respectively, he said.
Their readings are normally relied on by pilots for atmospheric conditions in the area, and he said he’s been trying to get Transport Canada to fix them for some time.
Questions about what happened to cause the tragedy will likely remain unsolved until the Transportation Safety Board completes an investigation into the crash.
The TSB told CHEK News in a statement that it will be deploying to the crash scene “shortly,” and is currently gathering and assessing the information it has so far.
When asked if it was investigating, the BC Coroners Service said it has not yet been notified of any deaths related to the incident.
CHEK has also reached out to the Canadian Coast Guard for more information.
Anyone with information on the crash is asked to contact Port Hardy RCMP at 250-949-6335.